Let’s delve into some training talk, I am not racing for a bit and I am launching into another round of training before a midseason off-season anyhow! So let’s talk training.
During this time of the year I get a lot of coaching inquiries. Some folks get nervous that their plan for Ironman Lake Placid is not on track, some don’t get motivated until April, or what have you, and that’s all fine. What the athletes who begin their training in April sometimes fail to realize is the importance of building an endurance foundation. Everyone thinks training needs to be hard and it needs to be hard now.
Every year I work with 1-2 athletes who I call “three monthers”. They come on board and endure the initial 12 weeks of training which are endurance building weeks, feel bored and go elsewhere or more often than not coach themselves. I see a lot of them later in the year injured. The core group that I have are my long term athletes, the ones I can really work with, the ones that are interested in the process, who are really serious about reaching their goals.
Endurance training is boring. It’s mostly aerobic work, heart rate zone 2, involves a lot of drills, a lot of easy steady consistent training. It requires a lot of patience. For 12-16 weeks. Endurance training is essential especially if you are gearing for an Ironman. As we know many athletes can rip off a half Ironman. Many will train half as much, but go harder, wack out a good 70.3, yet line them up next to a properly prepared Ironman athlete and they aren’t in the same zip code.
Endurance training, building your aerobic base, establishing your foundation… whatever you want to call serves a few purposes. Imagine building a house without a proper foundation. It will stand for a while, but it will eventually crumble. The athlete who fails to develop a solid foundation will do the same thing. They will knock out a few good results but then you will see them get sick, get injured, and spend a very long time recovering.
Imagine a house built on a very strong foundation. It will take a lot longer to build that house but when it stands it’s durable against storms. Same thing with the athlete who builds a strong and proper base. This athlete is what we call durable. Durability will go a very long way in the ironman.
Many athletes become very focused on their paces and speed during the endurance phase. The top athletes in the world at this game have endurance paces in the pool on wheels and on foot that are much slower than “race pace”. In running as much as 90-120 seconds slower. Endurance is supposed to be slow.
How do we know where our endurance pace is? The best athletes can feel it. It’s that conversation pace, you are running with your buddy and you can discuss last night’s game, Lost, or an upcoming event without getting winded. I like to ask my athletes if they can sing Happy Birthday twice without getting winded.
We also can use heart rate as a tool, remembering that it’s a tool and that it is variable. To establish HR zones I like to use a 5K run, and a 20 minute bike time trial. Now many coaches of Elite athletes have different methods. They will recommend an hour test on the bike, or some other method. I think that all tests and systems are good if they are used properly, with the right athlete and are consistent.
Just about anyone can go out and rip off a 5K or a 20 minute time trial without the risk of injury. It’s short, it’s something you can fit into your day, and it’s repeatable. Repeatability to me is very important. I don’t mean that every 5K has to be the same terrain. In fact I like my athletes to run their 5K’s on all different terrains. Let’s see what we get, let’s see how you do, let’s be challenged. Let’s take those results and fit them into what we know.
You see, training is the mixture of both art and science. I probably lean more on the art side of things, but with the group of athletes I have, it works. Some have power and Garmins and this and that….. some just HR….. some nothing. Some want to do nothing but test…. Some will avoid testing at all costs. As a coach I learn to be flexible. For the ones who are so terrified to test I build it into their workouts without them ever knowing it. For those who want to test too much……. I try to hold them back when I have to.
Back to establishing HR zones……… on the bike I use a 20 minute time trial for both HR and power, but we will discuss power next time. I like the 20 min time trial again because we can repeat it, it’s short, and I work with age group athletes who have jobs, families, and limited time.
The two methods I use are based on lactate threshold heart rate. I like Joel Friel and Andy Coogan’s formulas. Below is an example of both of them, this athlete will be me, who has a LTHR of 180, I had a difficult time copying this chart in, it was given to me by an old and awesome coach of mine, let me know if you need a more clear copy, you should be able to click on it for a bigger more clear image:
Until I get a run test out of them we set loose zones. We tweak them without getting overly attached to them. We use HR zones as guides.
Many things can affect HR; Heat, mood, stress, hydration (or dehydration) so typically in a race situation at least we don’t go by HR. I like to utilize HR because it can tell the story of the day in patterns. When these things affect us in training we use HR as a background and just watch it.
What I like about HR training as opposed to pace training, let’s use running as an example….. as you get faster your HR zones will remain pretty much the same but your pace will get faster. Over the past few years my endurance pace which for me is a HR average of about 150 used to be 9:03-9:15, and now it’s about 8:30. Remember we are talking endurance training pace here. In all of my road races thus far this year, the exception being Galveston I have been able to then nail my prescribed tempo pace.
What’s important is that you have a plan and follow the plan. Look for measurable progress such as retesting your 5K, retesting your HR data, look for progress to occur every 6-12 weeks (if you are being consistent and allowing for recovery… it will happen).
Remember adaptation or improved fitness depends on a few simple things:
Apply a stressor to the system, consistently.
Work that system.
Allow yourself to recover
Change or increase the stressor.